COVID-19

How are retail sales numbers higher than they were last year?

Marielle Segarra Aug 14, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A Florida man puts newly purchased wood into his truck. Sales at home and garden stores in July were up almost 15% over July of last year. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

How are retail sales numbers higher than they were last year?

Marielle Segarra Aug 14, 2020
A Florida man puts newly purchased wood into his truck. Sales at home and garden stores in July were up almost 15% over July of last year. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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If you told Taylor Fenske in March that he was about to spend six months basically unable to leave his house, go to restaurants or travel? He would have expected to save a lot of money, he said. And he would’ve been wrong.

“Mostly I’m spending money on wood,” said Fenske, who works in public relations and lives in New Jersey.

He has spent about $1,500 building a desk, TV tables, a plant stand, a nightstand and a corner table. 

“You know, I wake up on Saturday just thinking like, what the hell am I going to do to fill my time today?” Fenske said. “So I just walk around until I see something that needs to be fixed.”

Retail sales numbers came out Friday, and sales were actually 2.7% higher than in July 2019.

This is exactly why. People have cut back on their visits to restaurants and bars. They’re spending less on clothing. But they’re still shopping.

Sales at home and garden stores are up by almost 15% compared to last year.

And they’re up almost 18% at stores that sell musical instruments, books and sporting goods.

Doug Hermanson, an economist at Kantar, has not had time to pick up any new hobbies.

“As an economist, obviously, work starts to ramp up when (global recessions) occur,” he said.

But he has been biking more — so he bought some exercise shirts and he’s in the market for a new ride.

“You’re not spending money on other places, and so you’re kind of focusing on that one area that you are able to be passionate about,” Hermanson said. “And yeah, that shows up in these numbers.”

Another reason retail sales are actually higher than they were a year ago? Online sales have also jumped by almost 25%.

The big question now is: Can this last without another relief package from Congress? Because without those additional unemployment benefits, people will have less money to spend on retail therapy.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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